David Bowie loved them, Mick Jagger wore them on stage and Harry Styles has broadened their appeal even further; the wide-leg trouser more than deserves its place in your wardrobe. Flattering, comfortable and louche, a looser fit trouser can be either smart or laidback. Hypebeast Editor Eric Brain explains why he decides to go big rather than narrow when it comes to trousers and why you should consider doing the same.

Wedding pictures
Blue cashmere sweater

Perusing Topshop’s next-in-trend rails with my mum was always a favourite pastime of mine as a child (and, somehow, she was still surprised when I came out). These formative years of being enamored with women’s clothing and their ability to accentuate and flatter the body made me the fashion-obsessive I am today. I was always surrounded by fabulously dressed women – my aunt had a wardrobe envious to any young gay, only encouraging me further to dive into glossy magazines and ogle over the luxury labels that I would study like homework instead of doing my school science project. As a 25-year-old editor with a penchant for all things fashun, I have learnt to appreciate these life experiences for they have made me the person I am. 

On the other hand, menswear stores geared toward a teenager from Essex didn’t do it for me. I wasn’t inspired. I wasn’t eager to try things on. I bought whatever was closest to womenswear cuts. Essex was a very different place ten years ago; you could wear skinny jeans, but they had to be from Topman rather than Topshop despite the latter offering identical versions. I never understood this concept – a man could wear bulge-squeezing, thigh-hugging, calf-enhancing, ankle-showing jeans akin to leggings, but I, then not an out gay person, would be harassed for wearing a pair of women’s skinny jeans. 

Super slim-fits are a far cry from my trouser of choice today, but they undoubtedly played a part in my fascination with pants. Billowing, wide-legged, or my kryptonite – a pair of high-waisted trousers – are what you’ll find me in today. The history of the high-waisted men’s trouser goes back to the 1920s and ‘30s when they were often worn with a cummerbund and characterised by their long column-like legs that sported a central pleat. As society widened its eyes, our trousers got narrower, but all changed as we entered the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. 

Blue cashmere sweater

David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Gibb, Marc Bolan and so many others didn’t just love the high-waisted trouser, they made it their uniform. These are the references I pull upon. The same artists and cultural figures inspire Alessandro Michele’s Gucci, Hedi Slimane’s CELINE, Rick Owens, and Anthony Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent. Every time I wear a pair of high-waisted trousers, I am in equal parts honouring the music I grew up with and the womenswear section of those high-street shops from my past. 

High-waisted trousers bring a certain power to a look. Presence and poise if you will. It’s one of the few pieces of clothing that can warp proportions, making you look – and feel – taller. Maybe that’s all I ever wanted as a kid, to be like an adult, thus tall. And now, at six foot one, I love nothing more than playing with my proportions. A high waist elongates and narrows, while the wide kick at the bottom adds a playful flair, sitting atop a well-heeled boot for that quintessential retro aesthetic. As my love affair with high rise trousers has grown, so has my understanding of how to style them. They look great with a pair of sneakers, especially low-forms like an adidas Gazelle, or a chunky silhouette like Rick Owens’ Bozo Tractor Boot.

I’m well aware that the Y2K low-rise is hot right now, but I think we’ve all transcended trends post-pandemic. For me, the high-rise, wide-leg trouser offers comfort and style, combined with the ability to experiment. You don’t need to retire your favourite slim fits entirely, but perhaps it’s time to expand your mind and give your legs room to breathe.